Potpourri, 11/20/18

Wherever there is trauma, there has been betrayal, an abuse of authority, a moral injury.

… People who have suffered a trauma — whether it’s a sexual assault at work or repeated beatings at home — find that their identity formation has been interrupted and fragmented. Time doesn’t flow from one day to the next but circles backward to the bad event.

As a culture we’re pretty bad at dealing with moral injury. Sometimes I look at the rising suicide and depression rates, the rising fragility and distrust, and I think it all flows from the fact that we’ve made our culture a spiritual void. When you privatize morality and denude the public square of spiritual content, you’ve robbed people of the community resources they need to process moral pain together.

David Brooks


 

Like any other news and information site, Church Militant and LifeSite News are rightly subject to fair criticism when they overstep morally and journalistically responsible bounds. But I’ll tell you this: the reason these outlets have such a readership is that they are doing what the mainstream media has for many years refused to do: report on a key aspect of the abuse scandal that offends liberal prior commitments.

Rod Dreher, commenting on an NBC online hit piece:

Corky Siemaszko approaches the Catholic gay conflict issue as a cause, not a news subject. Do his editors at NBC News even care? Are they even capable of seeing that there is a problem of news judgment here?


An instructive pattern emerges:

When Gospel Coalition people opine on LGBT issues and celibate Evangelicals respond, the latter almost always strike me as more deeply Christian than the former. Here and here, for instance. Ditto when the celibate Evangelicals start it.


“Sovereign Citizens” may be the tin-hattiest of the tin-hatters.


Companies are forever wanting to do “team-building,” but everything about the woke workplace compels those with any common sense to consider everyone around them a potential threat.

Rod Dreher.

Corporatizing the revolution has been rapid and consequential. Dreher is starting a “Woke Workplace” series with reader input.


 Ingenious: Divide States to Democratize the Senate:

Article IV providesthat “new States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union”—including from the territory of an existing state, if
its legislature consents. Five states were created in this manner: Vermont from New York (1791), Kentucky from Virginia (1792), Tennessee from North Carolina (1796), Maine from Massachusetts (1820) and West Virginia from Virginia (1863).

Drawing on that tradition, a Democracy Restoration Act could grant blanket consent to populous but underrepresented states to go forth and multiply to restore the Senate’s democratic legitimacy.

It responds to a plausible concern about a founding decision that threatens to become unsustainable.

But is the response a plan, or a taunt?

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Why vote for Trump?

Resolved: This is the most plausible explanation to date of Donald Trump’s presidency:

[W]hat genuinely excites Mr. Trump’s crowds and draws them to him is their shared antiliberalism.. By liberalism … I refer to the liberalism now metamorphisized into progressivism ….

The man who attends a Trump rally turns on his television set and that night’s news leads off with a Black Lives Matter protest in his city. If that city is Chicago, he might recall that this year some 2,619 people have been shot, 475 shot and killed, the preponderance of these being black people shot by black youth gangs. If it is another city, there is a distinct possibility, as fairly often in the past, that the protest will lead to looting of nearby shops. Al Sharpton, nattily turned out, is likely to have flown in for the festivities to remind everyone about the world’s injustice.

Our man changes channels and is greeted by a story of a long and happy lesbian marriage. He reads in the papers that people are fired from jobs for remarks that, under the reign of political correctness, are interpreted as racist, sexist, you name it; that students feel unsafe at Yale; that a year’s tuition, room and board at Dartmouth is $74,000. Doubtless before long he will read a story about an 11-year-old who is suing his parents for not allowing him to transgender himself.

Oh God, he thinks, make America great again, make America straight again, make America anything but what it is becoming. What elected Donald Trump, and what sustains him, is not his rather dubious charisma, his ideas, his obvious jolt to the country’s earlier slow economic growth, and no, not even the wretched campaign run by Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump was chosen as a rebuke to the progressivism that has made life in America seem chaotic, if not a touch mad, and that now threatens to take over the Democratic Party.

Joseph Epstein

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We’re after power and we mean it

WordPress, the platform I use for this blog (see footer for my other blog) has stooped to censoring material that should not be censored in any society that values free speech.

I regret this very much.

The story that got GenderTrender suspended was, predictably, about the insatiable desire of some people with gender dysphoria (or just creeps pretending to be gender dysphoric to raise hell) to rope the rest of us in LARPing along with them — specifically, if I understand it correctly, the desire of a man-calling-himself-a-woman to get his scrotum commercially waxed over the objection of female aestheticians to servicing him. (In related news ….)

Such crypto-fascists (perhaps the man with the hairy scrotum himself) apparently persuaded WordPress that the policy against “the malicious publication of private details related to gender identity” should henceforth, without advance notice, include “publishing former names” — a practice known among certain hysterics as “deadnaming.” Moreover, “malice” is presumed and the penalty, WordPress apparently decided, should be summary capital punishment: irrevocable suspension of one’s account.

That’s my characterization. Orwellian details here if you are interested.

“Did you really think we want those laws observed?” said Dr. Ferris. “We want them to be broken. You’d better get it straight that it’s not a bunch of boy scouts you’re up against… We’re after power and we mean it… There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt. Now that’s the system, Mr. Reardon, that’s the game, and once you understand it, you’ll be much easier to deal with.”
Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

I now shall ritually violate WordPress terms of service be deadnaming “Caitlyn”:

Bruce Jenner, Bruce Jenner, Bruce Jenner, Bruce Jenner, Bruce Jenner.

There. That felt about as good as anything I could imagine doing in response to an effort to purge inconvenient truths and unfashionable arguments from public discourse.

I take comfort at some signs that such insanity may have run its course, and that it is terrified of the rising rebellion (can you say “Jordan Peterson“? Or even “Jonathan Pageau“?).

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The Very Structure of Reality©

Rod Dreher blogged Friday about a young, mentally ill woman down under who is interrupting her “transition” to “male” (breasts gone, but they didn’t get the uterus soon enough I guess) with a pregnancy. I wouldn’t comment on it except for this:

Why should this matter so much to Christians? Because our religion is incarnational. Traditional Christian teachings says that matter matters. Matter has implicit meaning. The divine logos is embedded in Creation, and finds its most complete expression in the Incarnation of God Himself in the form of a man, Jesus Christ. Because of the Incarnation, we cannot separate the body from God. The human body is part of the meaningful cosmos …

This is why the battle against the body is a cosmological war. Most Christians in the West today, having fully absorbed nominalism, don’t understand that. Once, in a conversation with a group of Christians about LGBT issues, one frustrated participant said, “When can we stop talking about this and get back to talking about the Gospel?!” As if the Gospel were somehow separate from the body, and from creation itself! For her, no doubt, the whole of Christianity was about assenting to a proposition (“accepting Jesus Christ as my personal savior”) and rearranging one’s emotions. But that’s a counterfeit Christianity. You sever the connection between the Bible and the body, the metaphysical link between God and Creation ….

That brought back to mind two perennial errors or heresies that seem to me to be related: gnosticism and nominalism.

Gnostic because the body doesn’t really matter. Nominalist because the body-that-doesn’t matter is sexed arbitrarily. I regret that my auto-didacticism hasn’t carried me far enough to permit elaboration on the connection.

Rod continues to have some of the smartest comments on the internet, partly because this tireless man moderates them carefully. Comments to this particular blog ranged fairly far afield, but I found these particularly perceptive or informative:

Really, do what you like to yourself; and if you want to chop your breasts off then somehow still “chest feed” your kid… good luck to you. And especially the kid. And all the therapy both will require down the line.

But don’t include me in this. Don’t require me to support your personal beliefs or delusions. I’m not religious, but if I was, this would be like me saying, “You not only have to respect my belief in God, you must also believe in God as I define him because you need to affirm my reality.”

I am not interested in affirming anyone’s reality. Affirm your own damned reality. And if that sends the LGBQWERTY crowd to the fainting couch or worse, it isn’t my problem. I do not exist to validate anyone’s view of him, her or “them”self.

(kgasmart) That one got a lot of endorsements.


The “Experts” (and boy do I use that term loosely) merely do what “Experts” have done through the ages, and that’s make sure the evidence fits the desires of those who get invited to all the best palace parties.

(Dave Griffey) Much truth, distilled. See these experts, for instance.


McCormick47 says:

November 16, 2018 at 11:17 am

Just a question, when you say “our radically individualist society…is allowing her to bring a baby into the world” how do propose stopping her? Mandatory abortion, forced sterilization for the mentally ill?

As civilized people, we don’t take children away from their parents without some substantial evidence that the children are being abused (unless they’re brown children who can’t prove their citizenship). Is the state supposed to assume the child is being abused because of her illness, or because she’s transgender?

How then does society disallow her?

Others commented later that society should forbid surgeons to mutilate bodies in the way they’re mutilated in surgical “transitions.”


Hmmm says:

November 16, 2018 at 11:59 am

We (traditionalist Christians included) need to find a way of opposing the celebration of these things in ways that are not explicitly religious. Otherwise the entire opposition will simply be branded as retrograde Bible-thumpers. I understand the need to bear witness and be honest and open about one’s faith. But outside of intra-Christian discussions, I think calling upon St. Paul and Biblical anthropology and so on as the basis for “gender” sanity will only be counter-productive.

Fair enough, but a starting point, surely, is getting Christian heads on straighter. Rod does preface the comment I found important with “Why should this matter so much to Christians?” as he throws down the gauntlet about counterfeit Christianity.


Rusty Shackleford says:

November 16, 2018 at 12:00 pm

I used to be a seventh grade teacher. I’ve observed what your Baltimore interviewee has experienced.

We’ve built a society that is pushing all of those kids mentioned (I’ll bet it’s at least 80% girls) to classify themselves as bi.

Children have been told that they are sexual beings – that sexual exploration is a wonderful thing and that it is how they find their true selves. Their music and Netflix shows and snapchat celebs celebrate it. But what these kids see in the media about how freeing sex is doesn’t conform to their daily life. What do 13 year old girls see when they look around? 13 year old boys.

We know know that girls mature faster than boys physically, mentally, and emotionally. A 13 year old girl (let’s call her Anna) sees her male peers and is repulsed – they stink, they’re hooked on video games and cartoons (and probably porn), and show no interest in anything of meaning. However, Anna has been told that she is a sexual being (at 13) and should be exploring her sexuality. The problem must not be with the boys (she thinks) – it must be with her. She must be either bi or a lesbian. (In the past 3 years, transgender has also become an option for her if she isn’t a stereotypical “girly-girl”.) All of this because she finds 13 year old boys repulsive – which she should!

Meanwhile, we’ve pathologized same sex friendships to the extent that if Anna has a deep connection with another girl, the only vocabulary she has to express it is either romantic or sexual.

Middle Schools in deep, deep red areas have Gay-Straight Alliance groups (though they’re only publicly referred to as GSA when parents peruse the school website). Parents complain about normalizing homosexuality when the biggest issue is that we’ve sexualized middle school. Anna ought to be learning the clarinet and reading about the Battle of Shiloh and playing volleyball. Instead, she’s on Snapchat all day, receiving harassing messages from her male classmates to “send nudes”, and is preoccupied with who she is or isn’t attracted to.

(Emphasis added) What would we do without perceptive teachers?


Lori [expanding on Randy Shackleford] says:

November 16, 2018 at 12:57 pm

“We know know that girls mature faster than boys physically, mentally, and emotionally. A 13 year old girl (let’s call her Anna) sees her male peers and is repulsed – they stink, they’re hooked on video games and cartoons (and probably porn), and show no interest in anything of meaning. However, Anna has been told that she is a sexual being (at 13) and should be exploring her sexuality. The problem must not be with the boys (she thinks) – it must be with her. She must be either bi or a lesbian.”

I think it’s worse than that. I have seen numerous accounts by young women who “realized” they were either lesbian/bi or asexual when they watched porn or received an unsolicited picture of male genitalia and felt repulsed. They truly believe their revulsion at what not only does but should cause revulsion in most women means they are not heterosexual, because they think that women should be turned on by porn or by looking at some guy’s junk. We have made porn the norm and what used to be the norm (women being repulsed by porn, women refusing sex outside of a committed relationship) into something weird and other.

Along with the crazy-high numbers of teens identifying as bi (especially, as you note, among girls–not being bi is in and of itself evidence of being a bigot in some circles of girls at this point), we also have huge and growing numbers of teens identifying as asexual. Because we are telling them that normal sexuality means that you desire sex with any hot person you see. We are telling them that if you actually only want sex within a committed, loving relationship, you are a “demisexual” (it’s an actual word and they actually believe this, that only desiring sex within a relationship makes you only kinda sexual). “Demisexual” bothers me more than maybe any other label, because it’s taking what is for many if not most women the norm–only wanting sex with somebody you care about who cares about you–and making it some sort of minority sexuality.

It’s all madness. What we are doing to this generation of young people is cruel and exploitative and disgusting. We are feeding them lies not just about the world but about who they are fundamentally.

(Emphasis added) Sigh.Kids watching porn and sharing crotch shots.

Demisexual” is a term I’d not heard before, and its meaning, sadly, is congruent with  Lori’s description.


Anne B says: November 16, 2018 at 1:07 pm

My 13 year old daughter tells me that, while it used to be that coming out as bi was a sign of being progressive and open minded, as of this month, bis are getting the stink eye. You see the prefix “bi” means two, implying that there are only two genders, which the kids have now noticed is transphobic. So now there is pressure on the bis to relabel themselves as pansexual. Or to admit to being bigots who only like cisfemales and cismales and not the other genders.

You probably think I’m joking, but no. Apparently it’s all over YouTube.


Kent says:

November 16, 2018 at 2:00 pm

“Three months after our conversation, that woman’s daughter came home from high school with the news that she is really a boy, and demanding that her family treat her as such.”

In my household, I’d immediately send little Susie out to mow the yard. Then she’d be helping my rotate my tires, followed by dirt bike racing.

By the next morning, she’d be little Susie again.


Lori says:

November 16, 2018 at 2:27 pm

This woman is 22 years old.

I guarantee you that if she were a young Christian woman still in school (as this woman is) married to a young Christian man who was expecting her first baby with excitement, many of the same outlets and people cheering this as amazing would be talking about how the Christian woman was ruining her life and wasting her potential and stupid for not waiting another 10 years or so. That is how crazy things have become. What would have been commonplace 40 or 50 years ago (a married 22 year old having a baby) is seen as something shameful while something unthinkable even 10 years ago is celebrated.

Sad, but I fear it’s true.


Turmarion says:

November 16, 2018 at 4:21 pm

A lot of socons want to use the Very Structure of Reality© argument against various LGBT issues, which is fine, if they want to go there. However, I assert that the underlying logic of those arguments doesn’t stop with LGBT issues, but also has logical implications for straight gender relations–e.g. discouraging women from higher education or working outside the house, restricting the areas of society in which women’s participation is considered appropriate, etc. I contend that these socans are reluctant–or outright refuse–to follow the logic of their own professed arguments. Matt says that gay male sexuality is a mess, and it ought to be cleaned up; and he’s honest enough to say that the only way to do so might logically imply things that would mess up his own life; and that therefore he’s not willing actually to do that. Which I can respect–my favorite Whitman quote is, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then; I contradict myself.”

Some commenters here in the past actually have argued for the logic of women staying out of the workforce, prioritizing children over careers, etc., and while I wouldn’t agree with them on much, I can respect the integrity of the argument, and if they and their wives follow such a plan, I can respect that they walk the walk, even if it’s not something I’d like to walk.

So it would be nice if every once in awhile Rod or some of the others would say, “You know, the model of gender roles I support would, if I were totally consistent, imply things for my wife and daughter that I actually wouldn’t want for them; and that’s inconsistent; and thus I either need to change what I want for them, or I have to admit that I’m inconsistent, own that, and live with it.”

….


Turmarion says:

November 16, 2018 at 4:30 pm

At the risk of running my mouth too much, this is another problem, which I haven’t discussed before, of the cosmic, Very Structure of Reality© arguments that socons make. In the past, I’ve argued that such arguments are way over-intellectual, unlikely to be understood by almost anyone, and not obviously true even to those who do understand them, but who think they are in error. I still maintain this.

However, let’s say, arguendo, that such arguments are actually right. They still fail, because they don’t give consistent results. In short, the exponents of such arguments disagree as to the actual concrete actions that should follow from such arguments.

For example, let’s agree, for the sake of argument, that it is correct that, on the basis of cosmic metaphysical principles, that gay sex is morally wrong by its very nature. Fine. The problem comes when you ask several people that agree on that what comes next. A says, “This is why we need to revive anti-sodomy law, chase gays out of the public square, and bring back the closet”. B says, “No, that’s cruel. What we need to do is emphasize gay conversion therapy.” C says, “No, no, that doesn’t work. What we need to do is convince gays to lead chase lives.” None of them, of course, ever says anything about the corollaries of the Very Structure of Reality© arguments for straight people.

So if metaphysical arguments can’t give us any idea as to what we should actually, you know, do, then what the heck good are they, anyway?

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Potpourri, 11/15/18

1

I never really kissed dating goodbye as a teenager in the mid-2000s — to be honest, I was pretty late in kissing it hello. But like many who were brought up in contact with evangelical culture, I absorbed its tenets almost by osmosis even though I never even read the whole book. Falling in love means sharing a piece of your heart that you’ll never get back. Sex is a slippery slope, generally with disaster at the bottom. Hard decisions could be boiled down to one rule: Keep it chaste. Do things right, though, and you’ll get the reward you deserve. Follow the instructions: results guaranteed.

Christine Emba.

It’s the promise of a fairy tale ending that offends me. Evangelicals lack any tragic sense of life. (Just “pray away the gay,” for instance.)

Or maybe that absence of tragic sense is a besetting American sin. More Emba:

In essence, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and its (inevitable, if you think about it) fall represent a mind-set prominent in evangelical culture, but also in American society more broadly.

We insist that meritocracy works and combine it with a valorization of hard work (which itself stems from our country’s majority-Protestant roots). To maintain the story that success is accessible to all, we’ve developed a tendency to seek out and elevate simplistic formulas that we hope come with guarantees. Stay pure until marriage, and your marriage will flourish. Follow the “success sequence,” and you’ll never be poor. Go to the right school, and all career doors will open. Elect the right candidate, and America will be great once more.

But the dark side of all this is that when the formulas fail — as they so often do — it’s you who must have done something wrong. And then it’s up to you to fix it on your own. Bad marriage? You must have screwed around as a teen. Still in public housing? Should have gotten a better job. The if/then mind-set doesn’t take into account how much is actually out of our personal control, or the systemic forces — race, class, family history — that might hold someone back.

It is difficult to counter such an ingrained — and easy — habit of thought. But give him credit: In reevaluating “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” Harris is modeling one way of doing so — he’s admitting to complexity and engaging directly with others, rather than sending down recommendations from above. Alas, even this admirable attempt won’t undo the harms that his formula caused in the first place.

But let the implosion of a cultural touchstone like “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” serve as a lesson, or at least a warning. The next time we’re tempted toward too-formulaic thinking, we’ll know to take it with a grain of salt. After all, life is rarely so pure.

2

Once upon a time, Protestant congregations had pulpits. This was a form of church furniture, a glorified lectern as it where, behind which pastors read the text for their sermon and preached it to boot. Today, contemporary design of church buildings makes little of fixed places for anyone participating in worship, except for the drummer who may be quarantined in a drum shield.

… as ministers of God’s word, pastors’ actions, including their feet, while communicating a message of such great moment should encourage the idea of permanence. That is one reason for having a pulpit with serious heft. It symbolizes that what goes on in this space is of great significance and enduring value (though some look so permanent that even the coming of the New Heavens and the New Earth will not unsettle them).

The permanence of the word preached is also a reason for ministers to stay in the pocket behind the pulpit and not move around. At best, happy feet is a distraction that calls more attention to the man than his message. At worst, they invite liturgical dance. So if the argument from permanence does not help, maybe the thought of overweight men and women in leotards will assist pastors (some on the rotund side themselves) keep both feet firmly planted behind their congregation’s ample pulpit.

D.G. Hart

3

[S]cientists are … making declarations ex cathedra — as a direct result of intellectual movements that began in humanities scholarship twenty-five years ago.

So for those of you who think that the humanities are marginal and irrelevant, put that in your mental pipe and contemplatively smoke it for a while.

Many years ago the great American poet Richard Wilbur wrote a poem called “Shame,” in which he imagined “a cramped little state with no foreign policy, / Save to be thought inoffensive.”

Sheep are the national product. The faint inscription
Over the city gates may perhaps be rendered,
“I’m afraid you won’t find much of interest here.”

The people of this nation could not be more overt in their humility, their irrelevance, their powerlessness. But …

Their complete negligence is reserved, however,
For the hoped-for invasion, at which time the happy people
(Sniggering, ruddily naked, and shamelessly drunk)
Will stun the foe by their overwhelming submission,
Corrupt the generals, infiltrate the staff,
Usurp the throne, proclaim themselves to be sun-gods,
And bring about the collapse of the whole empire.

Alan Jacobs, the imminent collapse of an empire

4

[W]hen you are told endlessly that there is no meaning to existence, then guess what? You actually start to think that way. And then everything loses its flavor. Everything starts to taste like rice cakes.

… [Y]ou cannot have it both ways. You cannot bleach divinity and Transcendence out of the cosmos and tell everyone that the whole affair is just an aimless and pointless accident, and then turn around and talk to us about the “moral necessity” of this or that urgent social cause.

Larry Chapp via Rod Dreher.

5

From before the election, but when I was otherwise occupied:

Trumpism … is the new normal. It is not going away. And there is no going back. The challenge for the center-right and center-left across the West is to accommodate this new normal in ways that do not empower authoritarianism, provoke constitutional unraveling, or incite civil unrest. And it seems to me that the lesson of the last two years is that the Republican Party is unable and unwilling to perform that function. It has turned itself into a cult behind a figure hostile to liberal democratic norms, responsible government, and any notion of moderation. It is less a political party than a mass movement sustained by shame-free, mendacious propaganda around a man whose articulated values place him more in the company of Putin and Duterte than Merkel and Macron.

The GOP cannot be talked out of their surrender to this strongman. With each rhetorical or policy atrocity, they have attached themselves more firmly to him. The dissenters are leaving; the new members of Congress will be even Trumpier than the old. They have abandoned any serious oversight role. Their singular achievement has been supplying judicial ranks who will not stand in the way of executive power. That was the real issue in the Kavanaugh nomination, as Newt Gingrich blurted out last week. A subpoena for the president from the special counsel would be fought, he promised, all the way to the Supreme Court, which is when we would see “whether or not the Kavanaugh fight was worth it.” This is a party bent on enabling authoritarianism, not restraining it.

That’s why I will vote Democrat next Tuesday. I have many issues with the Democrats, as regular readers well know. None of that matters compared with this emergency. I don’t care, in this instance, what their policies are. I am going to vote for them. I can’t stand most of their leaders and fear their radical fringe. I am going to vote for them anyway. Because it is the only responsible thing there is to do.

The Italian leftist, Antonio Gramsci, famously wrote, “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” We live in such a time, and we have in front of us one of those morbid symptoms: the current Republican Party. You know what to do.

Andrew Sullivan.

Or as William Blake put it:

what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I’m not at all certain that “judicial ranks … will not stand in the way of executive power” or that such was the aim of confirming them, but Sullivan otherwise is right about the abasement of the GOP, and the House has indeed flipped to the Democrats.

I wrote last week that the midterms would finally tell us what this country now is. And with a remarkable turnout — a 50-year high for a non- presidential election, no less — we did indeed learn something solid and eye-opening. We learned that the American public as a whole has reacted to the first two years of an unfit, delusional, mendacious, malevolent, incompetent authoritarian as president … with relative equanimity. The net backlash is milder than it was against Clinton or Obama (and both of them went on to win reelection).

What I take from this is that Trump really does have a cultlike grip on a whole new population of voters, as well as the reliable Republican voters of the past. That’s not just 42 percent of the country (to use Trump’s approval rating); it’s a motivated 42 percent. And what Trump has successfully done, by corralling right-wing media, tweeting incessantly, dominating the discourse, tending so diligently to his base, and holding rally after rally, is keep that engagement going. Most presidents are interested in governing and sometimes take their eye off the ball politically. Trump is all politics and all salesmanship all the time. And it works. If he can demonstrate this in the midterms, imagine what his reelection campaign will be like.

I’ve been razzed a little for using the term “existential threat” to describe Trump two and a half years ago. But I used it in a specific context: He was and remains such a threat to liberal democracy. Not democracy as a whole. Strongmen can win election after election with big majorities without rigging the vote. A single political party can co-opt the judiciary, or capture the Senate, by democratic means, for illiberal ends. I mean by liberal democracy one in which pluralism is celebrated, power is widely distributed, justice is dispensed without regard to politics, the press is free and respected, minorities protected, and where an opposition has a chance to win real, governing power. The space for this in America has significantly shrunk these past two years and this election has only consolidated that new status quo.

Andrew Sullivan

I’ve detested the Republican party long enough now that my reflex to cringe at Democrat victories passes very quickly, replaced by a resigned feeling of “we are soooooo screwed!” — no matter which major party wins.

6

When you obsess about a problem, you have less energy and passion to pursue solutions. When you fret over every outrage, you elevate those outrages. Stories trend because consumers engage with them, clicking and sharing them, not because the news media dictates that they trend.

I think it would be a solid and beneficial step for us all to simply come to the realizations: Trump is going to Trump. He’s going to lie. He’s going to wink at the racists and Nazis. He’s going to demean women. He’s going to embarrass this country. It’s all going to happen.

Nevertheless, we can take this stand unequivocally: It is all unacceptable and we stand in opposition to it. It is not normal and must never be met as such.

But we must also focus on the future.

Charles Blow

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Do it right

David French deals too gently, for my tastes, with the absurd histrionics of the New York Times and now the Washington Post on the meaning of “sex” in Title IX. (It’s apparent to me now that our elites distinguish wicked, troglodyte Republican science denial from shiny, trendy, bien pensant Democrat/progressive science denial.)

But I’m taking a second look at what the Administration is doing.

Here’s the very legitimate beef with the 1/19/17 status quo:

In April 2014, the Obama administration quietly expanded the definition — without an act of Congress or even a regulatory rulemaking process. In a document called “Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence” it stated that “Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity.”

Empowered by this new definition, the Obama administration issued extraordinarily aggressive mandates to schools across the nation, requiring that schools use a transgender student’s chosen pronouns and that they open bathrooms, locker rooms, overnight accommodations, and even some sports teams to students based not on their biological sex but their chosen gender identity.

Again, this was done without an act of Congress and without even a regulatory rulemaking process ….

My question: How, precisely, does that differ procedurally from the Trump administration’s “formal guidance”?

The administration may issue formal guidance establishing a biological definition of sex. Specifically, the administration may define sex to mean “a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.”

(David French)

This isn’t an accusation of equivalence. Perhaps there is a principled difference between “formal guidance” (whatever that means) and Obama’s “quietly expanded”? The New York Times, when it was finished with sobs of anguish, made it sound as if this is a definition the Administration wants to see in new regulations, which would be a permissible approach.

I’m 100% in favor of undoing Obama’s lawless affrontery. I’m 99.9% in favor of Executive branch departments narrowly construing “sex” for purposes of Title IX enforcement policy until Congress or the courts expand the definition. I’m 99.9% certain that’s what Congress meant in enacting Title IX.

But let’s stop abusing Executive power.

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American culture is probably the least Christian culture that we’ve ever had, because it’s so materialistic and it’s so full of lies. The whole advertising world is just intertwined with lies, appealing to the worst instincts we have. The problem is, people have been treated as consumers for so long they don’t know any other way to live.

The late Eugene Peterson on PBS, via his New York Times obituary

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Peter Principle update

Do you know the Peter Principle?

1

Image Journal has a new editorial team, with James K. A. Smith taking the helm as the new editor in chief. That’s a bit of head-scratcher to be honest. Everything I’ve read by him on poetry and fiction is pretty much what you’d expect from a well-read theologian writing on poetry and fiction. That’s not a slight. Theologians and critics tend to approach texts in different ways, even if they might arrive at some of the same conclusions. For the critic, style is argument. For the Protestant theologian—and I’m generalizing here, so forgive me—style mostly contains argument. I can’t say this is always the case with Smith. He certainly has something like this view regarding form when it comes to liturgy, but I have never thought of him as being particularly interested in style in writing or in the forms of poetry or the novel. Anyway, he has a strong team under him, it seems, and I am sure he will bring in new readers. Good luck to the whole crew!

Micah Mattix’s Prufrock newsletter for October 18.

2

This item aggregates downers — I guess they’re “uppers” if you exult in Trump hatred instead of just shaking your head and saying “heaven help us.”

It is a sign of the times — the kind involving the seven-horned beast, and the rain of fire, and the end of days — that recent news has been dominated by Kanye, Stormy and the misogynist boor who is president of the United States. It would be a circus if it were not a crime scene, complete with credible accusations of financial corruption, obstruction of justice and campaign collusion with a hostile foreign power.

… I do think [the charge of fascism is] basically mere alarmism, yes. We have a president whose shallow malevolence is matched only by his bottomless incompetence. But that’s not fascism. It’s more weakness than strength.

And yet, it is impossible to listen closely to Trump without hearing echoes of fascist language and arguments. He describes a form of national unity based on deference to a single leader. He claims to lead a movement that speaks exclusively for American values. He defines this movement primarily through exclusion, by directing bigotry and contempt toward outsiders. He paints the picture of an idealized past, involving pride, ethnic solidarity and national greatness.

Fascism may not describe what Trump has done, as opposed to what he says. But what he says matters and can create its own dangerous dynamic. It is possible for a leader to be incompetent and still profoundly corrupt the people who follow him, undermining the virtues — tolerance, civility and compromise — that make democratic self-government work. It is possible for a foolish leader to leave the imprint of fascism on a portion of his followers ….

Michael Gerson (in part quoting an unnamed “conservative leader”).

Michael V. Hayden, a former C.I.A. director who served under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said that Mr. Trump could be coaxed into believing objective reality, but that it “is not the instinctive departure point for what Donald Trump does.”

“It’s something else — it’s feeling, emotion, preference, loyalty, convenience of the moment,” Mr. Hayden said. He quoted a former speechwriter for Mr. Bush, Michael Gerson, about Mr. Trump: “He lives in the eternal now — no history, no consequences.”

Maggie Haberman. I didn’t used to think of left liberals as defenders of objective truth, nor of Evangelicals as indifferent toward it, but times change.

In the first 18 months of his administration, those who pointed out that he’d made a good decision, or failed to castigate him enough, were sometimes accused of “normalizing” Mr. Trump. But normalizing him wasn’t within their power. Only Mr. Trump could normalize Mr. Trump, by enacting normality and self-possession. He could have opted for a certain stature—the presidential stage, with its flags and salutes, almost leads you by the hand to stature. But he hasn’t.

Peggy Noonan.

3

Our clamoring after Christian “rock stars” — paired with the sheer volume of content those in the spotlight are expected to produce — has created the perfect environment for slipshod attribution and theft of content from lesser-known authors.

Mary DeMuth at Religion News Service.

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Picohontas, Paul Allen and more

1

I’ve been watching “alternate” and “independent” news sites, left and right, for a week or two. From a “right-wing” site (that seems to have gotten what I consider an unduly bad rap) comes the term Picohontas, with a reminder that “pico” is a prefix denoting 10-12, or one-trillionth.

Let him who has lungs to giggle, giggle.

And be assured that I’m taking these “alternate” and “independent” news sites with a whole shaker of salt. So far, they seem disappointingly tendentious. For instance, in this story (about a 70-year-old weed enthusiast who just got what amounts to a life sentence) the line that “unfortunately, he couldn’t find a lawyer that wasn’t intimidated by Bass’s trumped up charges and that was willing to fight for him” is almost certainly sewage, and a spoonful of sewage in a barrel of wine creates a barrel of sewage.

Maybe he was too poor — court-appointed public defenders often are overworked and under-funded relative to prosecutors, and might reasonably be thought too passive.

Or maybe he was too cheap to hire a lawyer and thought someone should represent him for free.

One thing I know: criminal defense attorneys are not “intimidated by … trumped up charges.” Their mouths water at such things. But they do need to make a living.

And if that site compares one more long sentence to notorious perv Anthony Weiner’s relatively short sentence, I’m deleting them from my RSS feed tracker.

2

The Atlantic notes, in an item that seems not quite up to Atlantic standards, that Paul Allen “signed the Giving Pledge in 2010, becoming one of 40 people to agree to give at least half their fortune to philanthropy,” did in fact give away hundreds of millions of dollars per year, but died 8 years later, worth 50% more than when he made the pledge. This, to the Atlantic, is “a sign of just how broken the American system of wealth is.”

In my opinion, all the author proved is that it’s deucedly hard to give away hundreds of millions of dollars without doing much collateral harm, or even more harm than good.  Let interventionist government take note.

(Meanwhile, I have little doubt that prosperity gospel preachers are going to turn Paul Allen’s last eight years into a parable, the better to fleece their flocks.)

3

Both “political correctness” and “civility” have become inflammatory notions in the post-2016 world. But what are they? Essentially, they’re both modes of speech and public conduct that aim to address the largest possible number of listeners without offense. In a liberal democracy, where citizens deliberate in public about political choices, it’s critical to have a widely inclusive, intelligible manner of speaking. The great liberal theorist John Rawls called this maximally inclusive way of communicating about politics “public reason,” and he considered it essential to maintaining a functional liberal democracy.

Elizabeth Bruenig (emphasis added).

Bruenig broached this topic differently differently a few weeks ago. I find this version better, but I’m still bothered if people really consider it “lying” to use (what Rawls calls) “public reason.”

My brain must work, my convictions form, very idiosyncratically.

4

One final thought.

I didn’t get on my bicycle much this summer, partly due to injuries sustained other than by biking. But I love riding “rails-to-trails” and other paved trails, where one can bike with minimal worries about traffic (i.e., only when you cross a road or perhaps a farm lane crosses the trail). Biking on the road is relatively worrisome, and it’s where I’ve had all my biking mishaps.

But I have stopped supporting the rails-to-trails advocacy groups because I’ve become aware that they’re carrying water mostly for wealthy, white, leisured people like me, and presumably someone else is paying the price. I am giving to support maintenance and extension of my favorite trails up in Michigan, but I’d feel really debased were I to respond to letters about some abandoned rail corridor somewhere in Indiana that isn’t paved yet, with some sentiment to put it to some other use.

5

Assorted thoughts on Picohontas — a topic in which I’m mildly embarrassed at indulging. In my defense, I skipped a lot of them. Those DNA hijinks seemed to be real pundit bait.

Since I collected ’em already, I might as well share:

According to my 23 And Me profile, I am as black as Elizabeth Warren is Native American, and as Native American as Elizabeth Warren is Native American. To put it another way, the 0.6 percent of my genes that derive from West Africa entered into my genetic line five or more generations ago; the 0.1 percent of Native American ancestry in my genetic line entered six or more generations ago.

I am 99.3 percent European, according to the same test. And of that number, all but 0.4 percent is northwestern European.

I’m fine with having non-European blood in my lineage, but guess what? I’m not Sitting Bull. I’m not Kunta Kinte. Genetics says nothing about the content of my character or yours. Elizabeth Warren is a moron to have brought this up again, and deserves the mockery she’s getting. So does the Left in general, given its obsession with racial identity.

Rod Dreher

I also have a family legend that there is Native American ancestry way back. That doesn’t mean that I publicly list my ancestry as Native American so that my employer can promote me as a diversity hire. I also don’t plagiarize French recipes and submit them to Pow Wow Chow with the claim that I am Cherokee.

Read David French’s article from last year if you want to see the full depth of her fraud: https://www.nationalreview.com/2017/11/elizabeth-warren-native-american-heritage-harvard-fraud/

Ryan Booth

As they say, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does indeed rhyme. And so “Elizabeth Warren” rhymes with “Hillary Clinton” ….

James Pinkerton.

Finally, the best:

Warren should not have taken the test; having taken it, she should not have publicized it; having publicized it, she should quietly fire anyone who urged this gambit and move on. And liberals generally should regard this whole thing as a cautionary tale. There is an obvious appetite on the activist left for a candidate or candidates willing to take on Trump on his own brawler’s terms. But if you come at him that way, you best not miss — as Michael Avenatti, the would-be Trump of the Resistance, has been missing repeatedly of late, with a Kavanaugh intervention that helped get the judge confirmed and a libel lawsuit that just got his own client ordered to pay Trump’s legal fees.

Ross Douthat

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Counter-hegemony

A fine Saturday WSJ profile of Heather MacDonald, who was only halfway onto my radar previously. She has some very plausible explanations of phenomena that swim against both progressive and conservative streams on snowflakes, Title IX Due Process, patriarchy and more.

Emphasis added.

1

Heather Mac Donald may be best known for braving angry collegiate mobs, determined to prevent her from speaking last year in defense of law enforcement. But she finds herself oddly in agreement with her would-be suppressors: “To be honest,” she tells me, “I would not even invite me to a college campus.”

No, she doesn’t yearn for a safe space from her own triggering views. “My ideal of the university is a pure ivory tower,” she says. “I think that these are four precious years to encounter human creations that you’re otherwise—unless you’re very diligent and insightful—really never going to encounter again. There is time enough for things of the moment once you graduate.”

2

Her views are heterodox. She would seem a natural ally of Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, authors of “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.” They argue that college “snowflakes” are the products of overprotective childrearing, which creates oversensitive young adults.

Ms. Mac Donald doesn’t buy it. Minority students disproportionately come from single-parent homes, so “it’s not clear to me that those students are being helicopter-parented.” To the contrary, “they are not getting, arguably, as much parenting as they need.” If anyone is coddled, it’s upper-middle- class whites, but “I don’t know yet of a movement to create safe spaces for white males.”

The snowflake argument, Ms. Mac Donald says, “misses the ideological component of this.” The dominant victim narrative teaches students that “to be female, black, Hispanic, trans, gay on a college campus is to be the target of unrelenting bigotry.” Students increasingly believe that studying the Western canon puts “their health, mental safety, and security at risk” and can be “a source of—literally—life threat.”

3

She similarly thinks conservatives miss the point when they focus on the due-process infirmities of campus sexual- misconduct tribunals. She doesn’t believe there’s a campus “rape epidemic,” only a lot of messy, regrettable and mutually degrading hookups. “To say the solution to all of this is simply more lawyering up is ridiculous because this is really, fundamentally, about sexual norms.”

Society once assumed “no” was women’s default response to sexual propositions. “That put power in the hands of females,” …

Young women … are learning “to redefine their experience as a result of the patriarchy, whereas, in fact, it’s a result of sexual liberation.”

4

What about the idea of actively enforcing viewpoint diversity? “I’m reluctant to have affirmative action for conservatives, just because it always ends up stigmatizing its beneficiaries,” Ms. Mac Donald says. Still, she’s concerned that as campuses grow increasingly hostile to conservatives, some of the best candidates may decide, as she did, that there’s no space left for them.

5

What worries Ms. Mac Donald more than the mob is the destructive power of its animating ideas. If the university continues its decline, how will knowledge be passed on to the next generation, or new knowledge created? Ms. Mac Donald also warns of a rising white identity politics—“an absolutely logical next step in the metastasizing of identity politics.”

6

I turn now to Andrew Sullivan, as I often do on Friday or Saturday.

His Friday column, The Danger of Trump’s Accomplishments, is almost perfect, but “Put a spoonful of sewage in a barrel of wine and you get sewage”:

The Republican senators likely to be elected this fall will, if anything, be even more pro-Trump than their predecessors. Corker, Flake, McCain: all gone. The House GOP will have been transformed more thoroughly into Trump’s own personal party, as the primary campaigns revealed only too brutally. And if by some twist of fate, a constitutional battle between Congress and president breaks out over impeachment proceedings, Justice Kavanaugh will be there to make sure the president gets his way.

(Emphasis added)

That ipse dixit about Brett Kavanaugh defending Trump from impeachment is vile, far beneath Sully’s usual level and, I’d wager, wrong. Moreover, it undermines the judiciary and, thus, the rule of law as surely as Democrats do when they talk as if Kavanaugh is some kind of Manchurian Associate Justice.

And — set me straight if I’m missing something — I think it’s stupid. The House impeaches; the Senate tries the impeachment. An Associate Justice of the Supreme Court has nothing to do with this process which, as we’ve been reminded much of late, is political despite the allusion to “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

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